Dozens of residents voiced their concerns about growth and development Jan. 30 at a Hollister City Council town hall at the Veterans Memorial Building. There was also brief discussion on traffic safety in school zones.
The city’s growth rate was at the center of discussion, with people debating whether Hollister should continue its residential growth at the current rate or slow down.
While increased growth in recent years has caused concern for some residents, the numbers tell a different story. Because of a building moratorium in the early 2000s and the recession in 2008, the city’s residential growth has been meager. City Manager Bill Avera has said in the past that Hollister’s growth rate has consistently remained below 2 percent. In all, 560 homes were constructed from 2008 (when the moratorium was lifted) to 2017. According to a Jan. 29 newsletter from the San Benito County Business Council, between 2008 and 2015, the growth rate did not exceed 0.63 percent except in 2011, when it peaked at 1.62 percent. In 2016, the rate was 1.22 percent, when 143 units were constructed.
Planning Manager Abraham Prado said according to the building department, there were 310 units built in 2017 and 312 in 2018.
People in favor of slowing residential growth argued that local roads and highways, including routes 25 and 156, as well as schools, cannot handle additional residents.
“Add more homes until everything gets fixed here,” resident Terry Clark said during the town hall. “If there is an emergency, what happens if there is a catastrophe in this damn county? Or somewhere else that we gotta get the hell out of here? I guarantee you on [highways] 25 and 156 we’re going to be bottlenecked and we won’t be able to get out of here if there is an emergency.”
Other concerns from residents included the need for larger police and fire departments, as well as emergency responders. To some attendees, the solution to congested roads and the need for more services was to create more local jobs.
Resident Linda Kelly said Hollister is becoming a bedroom community that could become a ghost town if there is a housing or fiscal crisis.
“If you do not bring jobs here before you bring new homes here, you will strangle your whole city,” Kelly said.
Local business owner and San Benito County Supervisor Peter Hernandez said he was tired of hearing people justifying residential growth by saying it would attract commercial growth.
“Over the last couple of years being here, I don’t see any increase in traffic in my shop even though we are getting more and more people every year,” said Hernandez, who owns Ohana Shave Ice.
Pro-growth residents argued that growth was needed to attract commercial businesses to the region.
Union Heights developer Richard Ferreira, who recently took the county to task on the lack of maintenance services in county service areas, said the loss of residential growth was a major factor in losing businesses like Fortino’s Furniture and Hayward Lumber company.
“Without residential growth, we cannot survive financially, which also results in loss of sales tax revenue and jobs,” Ferreira said. He added that businesses consider the number of residential roofs and local political climate regarding residential growth before deciding to move into a new town.
Resident Scott Ridenhour discussed developer impact fees for water, schools, parks and traffic.
“If those fees aren’t adequate, those fees are to be looked at and adjusted to make sure that they’re paying their way,” Ridenhour said. “That’s an important component of making sure that the development is really truly paying its way in this community.”
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez reaffirmed his support for slowing growth and better planning.
Using schools as an example, Velazquez said building 2,000 new homes is equivalent to a new $50 million school of about 800 students. He said those impact fees might cover about $15 million toward building that hypothetical school.
“So who makes up the shortfall?” Velazquez asked. “Look at your tax bill. That’s dumb growth.”
Councilwoman Carol Lenoir said that from her six years on the Hollister Planning Commission, Velazquez’s “dumb growth” comment was far from the truth.
She said tentative maps, which developers are required to submit before any development is approved, have around 80 conditions they must meet. Lenoir also said she would do whatever it takes to avoid being sued by developers or the state, as is currently happening with Governor Gavin Newsom and Huntington Beach.
Traffic safety in school zones
Residents also argued for better enforcement of traffic laws near schools during drop-off and pick-up times. They shared stories of how parents block streets by illegally parking, drive at high speeds, make illegal turns and don’t stop for school buses while picking up or dropping off their children. They said the only way to stop dangerous driving is by fining those responsible.
Supervisor Hernandez and Hollister School District Trustee Robert Bernosky said the district has attempted to meet with the city traffic engineer to address safety issues, but meetings have been canceled at the last minute.
He added that school staff have feared getting involved because of the traffic danger and how angry parents have become after being asked to slow down or do anything to alleviate the situation.
The Hollister Police Department recently announced that there would be an increase in saturation patrols in school zones to address traffic and safety issues.